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Georg Simmel: Biography of this German Philosopher and Sociologist

Throughout history different cultures and societies have been born, developing and dying, generating many ways of thinking and seeing the world.

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“Throughout history different cultures and societies have been born, developing and dying, generating many ways of thinking and seeing the world. Philosophy and sociology are fundamental elements to understand not only its evolution, but also the very functioning of society and the discussion regarding multiple aspects of life.”

There have been many authors who have developed both disciplines, but not so many who have gone on to perform microsociological analyzes such as interpersonal relationships or the structuring of reasoning. One of them, which would serve as a precursor to symbolic interactionism and the scientific development of sociology, was Georg Simmel. This author participated in the early stages of sociology and developed his own philosophical thought.

Throughout this article we will see a brief biography of Georg Simmel.

Brief biography of Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel was born in Berlin on March 1, 1858, being the seventh and youngest son of Edward and Flora Simmel. His family, of Jewish origin, was prosperous and cultured, although his relationship with his mother was never close to being overly authoritarian. Despite this, and regardless of whether his parents had converted to Christianity, throughout his life he had to face an anti-Semitism greatly expanded in society.

His father died in 1874, something that would end up leading his family to a precarious economic situation. At that time a friend of the family, Julius Friedländer, happened to take charge and become tutor of the small Georg. Thanks to him, he was able to study at a Gymnasium in Berlin, finishing high school before entering university.

University education and start of the teaching activity

Finished primary and secondary studies, Simmel enrolled at the University of Berlin in order to study philosophy and history, subjects in which he was deeply interested, in addition to attending lessons in social sciences and psychology.

During his training, which he did entirely in Berlin, he made contact with important philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists and studied works such as Kant’s.

Despite this he had difficulties during his studies: in 1880 the university rejected a work that he intended to use as a doctoral thesis, referring to the origin of music. Fortunately and after changing the subject to metaphysics, he managed to get his PhD thesis The nature of matter according to the physical monadology of Kant (thesis that even received a prize from the Kaiser).

Finished his studies got not without some effort the qualification to be named privatdozent, private teacher, in 1885: a position little valued but that allowed him to remain in contact with the university. Despite this, his great training and interest in multiple subjects made him a deeply popular teacher and loved by his students, since in addition to working in unusual areas of philosophy, he tried to bring them closer to nearby subjects for those who attended them.

Publications and personal relationships

Also, during this period I would also begin to write publications that little by little would be gaining more and more prestige, even at an international level. In 1890 he married Gertrude Kinel, painter and intellectual with whom he had a son, and from the hand of which he met and established a good relationship with thinkers like Max Weber.

In this context he began to develop some of his most relevant philosophical works, introducing and being one of the forerunners of sociology as a science with publications such as On social differentiation or Introduction to moral science, in which he worked on topics such as sociology or Impossibility to work a scientific ethics beyond the mere description.

In addition to that author, Simmel began to hold several gatherings with great authors such as Stefan George, Edmund Husserl or Walter Benjamin. He also made several trips through Italy. In 1900 the University recognized his multiple contributions, naming him an extraordinary professor, but in spite of it not accepting him as a professor (something that provoked the indignation of many intellectuals).

In 1908 he published Sociology, helping to substantiate this discipline at a scientific level. Also at this time he focused on the concept of life, leaving aside the terrain of sociology as such as entering a more metaphysical and existentialist area.

Despite the marginality to which his origin condemned him, he managed to found the German Society of Sociology with Weber. By 1914, coinciding with the First World War, the University would finally give it a chair.

Legacy in sociology and philosophy

Unfortunately, throughout 1918 the author contracted liver cancer, which ended up causing death soon after. Georg Simmel died on September 28, 1918, in the city of Strasbourg. In his last year he would produce publications such as The Conflict of Modern Culture or Intuition of Life: four metaphysical chapters, in the last of which we see his metaphysical position in his last days.

Simmel’s contributions are unmentionable: despite being relatively little known and having been marginalized by the academic field of his time, he contributed greatly to establishing sociology as a science, working on aspects such as authority and individuality or personal relationships. He was also a controversial and interesting philosopher who touched on topics such as immortality, moral relativism, life, love and ethics, and whose works inspired many later authors.

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